Last Day of Class

Today we wrapped up the class by reflecting back on our time spent here. Palau is a beautiful country that has complex issues surrounding the use and protection of their natural resources. This class showed us both the cultural and scientific sides of the story, which served as a lesson that there is never one straight forward solution to a problem. A large part of conservation work is learning how to communicate efficiently with stakeholders that might hold complete opposite views and how to compromise so that both sides walk away happy. More importantly, if the community is actively involved in the preservation of natural resources then the regulations put in place are more likely to stick.

We would like to give a special thank you to our amazing instructors, Bryan Endress and Scot Heppell, for putting together this course. Without them this amazing class would not have been offered.

Thank you to Ann Singeo and the Ebiil Society for hosting us for a week during this trip. The amazing women that work here are making huge strides in education the youth of Palau so that a whole generation is brought up knowing the importance of protecting natural resources.

Special thanks to Obak, a chief of Ngetkib, who donated his valuable time to us to drive us in his boat around to the different rock islands.

Our MVS (most valuable students) were Daemi and Balang. We were so fortunate to have you both participate with us! Thank you so much for sharing Palauan snacks with us, showing us around, being our moms/chauffers, joining us in the taro patch, and providing modern context when we had questions.

And last but not least, thank you to Chris Kitalong and Palau Community College for sharing your knowledge and time to teach us more about this wonderful country.

Our last group activity – the night market

 

Music, dancing, loads of food, and some beautiful handmade jewelry. Nearly every vendor in Koror, and a variety of others brought a huge variety of food. This was probably the event that we saw the most tourists at. Taiwan had a fairly strong presence, with a few booths of imported fruits and veggies from Taiwan, and someplace was handing out postcards with “Best Friends Forever – Palau and Taiwan” written on them. The dancing was wonderful. The first group was all women with two younger girls. Second was a group with some more contemporary dances with men and women, that were pretty hilarious. Last was a group of women who accumulated several children standing close by and occasionally trying to mirror their dance.

Last but not least, the best part of the night was when Hannah went up and danced with a man we later found out was named Daniel… Dani Daniel? It was hilariously amazing. He was completely thrilled that she danced with him and showered her with compliments for her efforts. She’s an expert Palauan dancer.

Day 13: Lake Ngardok (Crocodile?)

 

Unfortunately, there’s still rain and high winds, so no snorkeling today! However, we visited Lake Ngardok, the largest freshwater lake in Micronesia (but don’t get too excited, its surface area is only 0.04 square miles!). “Ngardok” means “living spring” in Palauan, a tribute to its valuable flora and fauna. The lake lies within a protected area that accounts for 18% of the state of Melekeok (there are 10 states on the island of Babeldoab). It’s an important area to protect because of the wide variety of ecosystems– forests, wetlands, streams– that provide habitat for native and endemic species.

When we arrived, the Ngardok Reserve manager gave us some information on their reforestation methods to restore nutrients to degraded soil areas. To replant the areas, seeds are harvested from the reserve itself and propagated in their on-site nursery. To aid their growth, the staff are experimenting with different organic fertilizers: limestone, coconut husks, and soil from taro patches.

Lake Ngardok
The Reserve workers collect saplings from the reserve forests and raise them in this nursery. Once the plants reach a healthy size, they are then planted in reforestation efforts.
An example of using coconut husk’s as long lasting plant fertilizer. The coconuts take a while to completely break down, which means they provide nutrients to the plant for a while.
The class as we began our journey along the trail through some of the reserve.
No students were harmed in the duration of this hike.
Above: Micronesian Imperial Pigeon. The Lake Ngardok Nature Reserve rescued this bird and is currently rehabilitating it. Once healthy, they plan on releasing the pigeon back into the nearby forest.
One of the many orchid species in the reserve. Unlike many orchids, the flowers on this species are green. Scientific name: Speuderia micronesiaca.
Another one of the several orchids found in the reserve. Scientific name: Dipodium freycinetioides.
This species of fern acts as an epiphyte, meaning it grows on other trees. It is locally known as “Crocodile Nails” due to its shape. It is one of the oldest fern species in Palau.
The Ngardok manager discussing how the ferns can smother newly planted saplings
Bryan informing us about the non-native acacia trees first introduced to help return nitrogen to the poor soil. Introducing non-native plants inhibits the progress of reforesting an area with native species, as well as possibly causing it to become invasive. Now managers are working with native species to support forest recovery.
Not a high quality photo, but it’s picture evidence of what is probably, most likely, and quite possibly an endangered saltwater crocodile!

Day 11: Coral Reef Research Foundation & Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle

HELLO!

Today we met many different people with different expertise. In the morning, we visited Patrick Colin with the Coral Reef Research Foundation. He gave a presentation about climate change in Palau and how that has affected marine life in the past and predictions for the future. After that, we visited the Palau Aquarium.

After a quick lunch break, we drove over to Palau Community College to visit their research lab. They are doing great research with the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (CRB) virus, persistent organic pollutants, and health habits in Palau. CRBs have made a serious impact on the coconut plants in Palau, and is disrupting the coconut economy. They are working to figure out why some of these beetles are becoming immune to the virus.

Finally, we visited the US Embassy to have a meeting with Amy J. Hyatt, the Palau Ambassador for the United States, along with Paul Blake with NRCS. Here, we had a great discussion on the politics between US, China, Taiwan, and Palau, along with the work that the Embassy is doing for agriculture in Palau. Unfortunately, we were not able to take any photos due to security.

Patrick Colin presenting his data on climate change in Palau.
Having fun at the aquarium!
Dissecting Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles at PCC.

 

Day 10: Jellyfish Lake

Today we started our day at the Coral Reef Research Foundation (CRRF) where we listened to a presentation about Marine Lakes and Jellyfish Lake. We learned that a Marine Lake is a body of saltwater completely surrounded by land. They are often connected to the ocean through underground channels in the limestone. There are 55 marine lakes in Palau, and only 5 have golden jellyfish. Of all 55 lakes, only one is open to the public. At CRRF, one of their projects is measuring the population of the jellyfish in the lake and how natural events such as El Niño have caused the jellyfish population  to disappear. For instance, in 2002 there were an estimated 20 million jellyfish in the lake, but after the most recent El Niño they disappeared again. The researchers believe that warm water caused the jellyfish to vanish, among other things such as sunscreen and invasive species. The reason that the population is able to recover is because the polyps (jellyfish larva) are able to survive despite the warm temperatures. Currently, there are roughly 20,000 jellies in the lake (less than 1% of their previous number- but we still saw several!).

Little Jelly!

the native sea anemone, there is currently an invasive brown anemone in the lake as well.

 

Less common, but still native- moon jelly
One of the CRRF researchers showing us the difference between male and female jellies
Laurel’s selfie with a Jelly!
the most common type in the lake- a golden jelly

After leaving the research center we went out to Jellyfish lake with some of the researchers from the foundation. Currently every visitor to Jellyfish Lake must buy a special rock island permit in order to access it. We snorkeled around for an hour, before departing to a different island for lunch. While at the island, Jesy got stung by a jellyfish (ironically, this happened after we left Jellyfish lake, where the jellies have very mild stings). After lunch we went snorkeling at Fantasy Island. There we were able to witness a wide variety of fish feeding in the coral and a black tipped reef shark! We ended our day at a cove nicknamed Milky-Way, where we used the mud-like sand to exfoliate ourselves!

Amy and Hannah on the beach
the black tip reef shark
fish feeding!
Dussumier’s Halfbeak

 

Nikki, Balang, Alayna having fun with the Milky Way sand!

Day 9: Airai Protected Area and Biota Aquaculture

Today we began our morning with Clarence again as we headed out on the boat to the Medal Ngediull Conservation Area in the state of Airai. As we talked more about the conservation site, we got to chat with the director of the PAN and the Speaker of the House for the state. They talked to us about some of the biggest problems facing this PAN: sedimentation and overfishing. The sedimentation is a huge issue here because the water flowing into the small bay carried too much sediment from the construction of the airport and local development. Too much sediment harms the coral and seagrass beds here, in turn reducing the populations of fish and marine life. Overfishing of sea cucumbers and rabbitfish have also reduced populations numbers and they aim to bring some of these species back to a healthy number. We asked them how the community responded when they decided to close the fishing for the 5 year term, and they said that the more educated portion of the community was in favor because they understood the benefits, but it was hard on local fishermen whose livelihoods depend on this area.They tell us that by working with the community and following the sediment trails, they are trying their best to reduce the negative effects in the conservation preserve. After chatting with these men, we got the chance to do some snorkeling in the seagrass and coral reefs to see some amazing marine life and different kinds of fish.

The Medal Ngediull Conservation Area in the state of Airai.
View from the island near the protected area, where we waited for the tide to come back in.
Clarence and the director of the Airai protected area talking with us about the issues of sedimentation and overfishing.

While waiting for the tide to come back, we spent time pairing up and measuring the sea cucumber abundance by counting sea cucumbers within each measured transect. We did the sampling to compare the abundance difference outside of the protected area and within the protected area.

Students measuring the sea cucumber abundance outside of the protected area.

Later in the afternoon we visited the Biota Marine Life Nursery, which collects wild spawned eggs from tropical fish in Palau. They mainly nurse and grow tropical fish, small and giant clams and coral for aquarium export, but they also help restock the rabbitfish population as an agreement with the state of Airai for developing a site there. They have restocked the fish in the past, but so far do not have any data collected to reflect their efforts of restocking. They have collected eggs and nursed some very rare fish including the burbonias anthias, a spiny fish found only below 100 meters or about 300 feet in the ocean. Their efforts claim to be sustainable for the waters of Palau, as Palau remains one of the only places that is labeled as having a healthy coral reef.

Baby coral being grown at Biota.
Wild giant clams being grown at Biota for export to aquariums.

Palau Day 8: Diving and Day Off

After a long first week, we had a day off from our usual class. A few of us went diving, while the rest of the class relaxed, ran errands, and worked on their projects. The few of us that went diving went to a dive site called Sandbar, where we finally saw some sharks. We were able to see white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks. The second dive site was called Ulong Channel, which was a deep channel with a sandy bottom and walls of coral on either side. There we saw a school of juvenile grey reef sharks and around four Hawksbill sea turtles. The last dive was a Indonesian fishing boat wreck, which was covered with a diversity of corals and fishes. 

Hannah diving at Sand Bar
The heavy downpour did not discourage the divers today
Triggerfish that attempted to attack multiple divers
Juvenile grey reef sharks
Ulong Channel
Giant clam in Ulong Channel

After a satisfying day of diving, everyone met back at Sam’s Tours for happy hour and food. Overall, today was restfull for some and very eventful for others, but great for everyone. It was a nice break, but we’re all excited to start a new day of learning and adventure tomorrow.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbjKgM8Qllc&feature=youtu.be

 

Palau Day 7: Ollei’s Reefs and Fisheries

Today was our last day in Ollei, and we were very sad to leave. It was a fun and relaxing day on the water spent fishing and snorkeling. In the morning, we went out on the boat for a couple hours learning to fish with hand lines. Overall, we caught around 20 fish of 7 different species, including the orange lined trigger fish, yellow striped snapper, coral grouper, red snapper, gold saddle goatfish, blacktail snapper, and lyertail grouper.

Heading out to fish in the morning

 

 

Bright smiles as some of us catch our first fish ever (except for Alec, who caught many)

 

 

Daemi and Alec were our star fishers for the day

After catching and cleaning the fish, we learned how to properly identify, measure, and weigh them. The fish were then scaled and filleted to be prepared for dinner later.

Sorting through our catch of the day
Tino showing us how to differentiate between sexes

Following our fishing excursion, we ate a tasty lunch of fish sandwiches and took a short break before heading back out to snorkel at Ebiil Channel. Everyone had a great time admiring the massive array of diverse fishes and beautiful corals. After an hour or so of snorkeling, we headed back to Ebiil  to wind down and begin packing for our return to Koror.

Crown of thorns starfish
Mooray eel and cleaning wrasse

Pink anemonefish
Orangefin anemonefish

Huuuuuuge sea cucumber

We would all like to thank the Ebiil Society, all of our mentors, and our boat drivers for a spectacular week of fun and educational activities. We learned a lot about traditional Palauan management practices and we now have a greater understanding of how culture and science interact. Thank you!!

 

 

 

Day 6: Taro patches!

Here is our vlog for today–where we learned about taro cultivation and taro patch management.  When Ann is sharing her knowledge with us about taro patches, the audio is low, so turn up the volume. We also fit in a visit to some stone monoliths and a bit of snorkeling. Check it out:

 

Day 5: Tree Planting and Mesekelat Watershed

Today we helped plant 80 trees ( Pterocarpus indicus, Millettia pinnata, Casuarina equisetifolia, Terminalia catappa), and 50 Lemongrass plants in the degraded soil of Ngaremlengui state. We also explored the Mesekelat Watershed, where we hiked through a forest, and visited a waterfall. We ended the day visiting another endemic tree of Palau, in the Mesekelat Conservation Area.

Below is a photo diary of today’s events!

Pictured is a Parkia tree, which is endemic to Palau, and one of the most rare species.
Ann tells the group about how local people learned of the degrading water quality, and reached out to her for help.
The soil in this area is mostly clay, which is very infertile for crops. The goal of today is to add trees that have roots that can hold water for a long period.
Pictured are students working together to plant various tree species.
Pictured is students planting Lemongrass to help fence the forest from soil erosion.
In the Mesekelat Watershed, we stopped at a waterfall.
Today’s bloggers enjoying the waterfall!
This a map of Ngchesar state, and Stephanie is pointing to the Mesekelat Conservation Area
Another endemic tree of Palau, Calophyllum pelewenese P.F. Stevens, found in the Mesekelat Conservation Area. The trunk of the tree is round enough for four people’s arms to reach each other.
Students visiting the Mesekelat Conservation Area.

Stay tuned for our next blog post!

– Jesy Rodriguez and Daemi Ngirmidol